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Office Hours: Rich Antoniello, Founder and CEO, Complex Networks

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September 25, 2023 | Podcast
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Welcome to a new episode of Office Hours: a podcast with Front Office Sports CEO Adam White and figures from the sports industry centered around three basic questions: “What’s on your mind today?”, “What are you excited about?”, and “Any big ideas or theories you want to share?”

On today’s episode, we’re joined by Rich Antoniello, CEO and founder of Complex Networks.

Antoniello founded Complex in 2002 after several years in print and digital media at National Geographic and Men’s Journal following his start as a media planner at Saatchi & Saatchi in 1993.

Today, Complex is a multimedia brand covering style, sports, pop culture, sneakers and more. The company is increasingly producing unique content like Hot Ones, its chicken wing and celebrity interview show, while also branching out into events like ComplexCon, a festival and convention that brings the site to life with food, music and entertainment.

Antoniello sat down to discuss the value of organic growth, what teams and leagues can learn from media companies, the importance of good brands and good businesses, and what it takes to be a good entrepreneur.

Edited highlights appear below:

On the importance of maintaining organic growth (4:10)

To me, we’re not even scratching the surface of how big and influential we can be, not just domestically but globally. I’m not trying to take shots at anyone, but there are a lot of people like, ‘Oh my God, here’s where the ad dollars are. Let’s go reverse engineer a business.’ And then they wonder why they fail.

What we’re going to do is remain disciplined where we have a differentiated narrative and can create a moat. And a defensible moat around our business and the differentiation that we created within it. Otherwise, we won’t do it.

On changes in college athletics (14:44)

We are excited. I mean, the bottom line is it only increases the funnel of more people that we could easily work with. On a personal basis, I think it’s one of the bigger travesties in around that these universities make the money and the television channels make the money and these kids get nothing -and forget about the fact that a great deal of them really need the money on top of it, right?

I think it’s going to be a no-brainer. We’re going to turn around and be like, ‘I can’t believe it took this long’ because when it happens, it will happen quickly. I’m feeling people are going to turn around five years from now and say, ‘I can’t even believe that that ever existed.’ I really do believe that’s gonna that’s the way it’s going to go down.

The growing number of women in Complex’s audience (22:15)

We’re about 53 to 55% male and 45 to 47% female in any given month. It’s not that we write from a female perspective, but we cover a lot of topics that just youth culture cares about. And what’s funny is a lot of verticalized female properties do not cover the topics we cover that a lot of women care about.

So a lot of women care about sneakers, a lot of women care about hip hop, a lot of women care about style and design, and not from a couture fashion house perspective. And I think that that’s a burgeoning thing for us.

We’ll never go into makeup columns on Complex, but how we deal with women and reach more women and mean more to them will have to be a value exchange.

On what teams can learn from media (29:20)

I think there’s a lot that leagues and teams individually can learn from media companies, certain media companies that have the ability to realistically start a conversation and be effective platform as well.

It’s not like a one-trick pony on one platform to like do one thing. It’s like there’s an ability to create a very powerful narrative to activate a brand audience that become brand ambassadors for your athlete, for your team and for your league.

I think smart leagues and teams and owners are starting to have those conversations. I think there’s still a lot of regulations and limitations in there that I think will go away soon because it’s in everybody’s interest to do that.

What it’s like to be an entrepreneur: (44:52)

My most loathed phrase right now is hustle culture. Like, it drives me crazy. Because everybody thinks you can just make it flashy and I got news for you. You can make it flashy. I guarantee you won’t have a good end result.

Building a business is like building a brick wall in Alabama, in the middle of the summer. It’s like blood, sweat, tears, brick by brick, and when everybody else on your team leaves, you’re still there- building that wall all the time.

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